A Broward teacher wanted to connect to her students during the pandemic. She turned to TikTok
At Nova Eisenhower Elementary in Davie, Natalie Stuart, 34, gets recognized — a lot.
"The parents will roll down their windows. You're that TikTok teacher. Oh my gosh. And they freak out," she said.
Her students know her as Ms. Stuart, but some have seen her on TikTok first.
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The third grade teacher racked millions of views on the social media platform incorporating pop culture references in her lesson plans.
"I can make it fun and if I can connect with my students on a level that they connect with, it's only going to make them not only enjoy school but actually focus, pay attention and do what they have to do to succeed," Stuart said.
Initially she created a TikTok account to bond with her students when Broward County Public Schools switched to distance learning. In November last year, her classroom switched to hybrid, slowly allowing 30% of their students back in the classroom. That's when she began to share her teaching methods online.
"Nobody had ever done this [virtual learning] before. So all of us teachers were kind of depending on each other for ideas," she said. "We were just working together to figure out what's the best way to address the needs of these kids, you know, on the computer."
Every week her teacher's assistants — pictures of celebrities on popsicle sticks — run the gamut from Cardi B to Mrs. Doubtfire.
It's part of her so-called "call-and-response" method. Most teachers will use the saying "one-to-three, eyes on me" to grab their students' attention. Stuart will exchange that with lines from movies or TV shows.
She said it's been a challenge managing students' behavior this year, as they adjust to in-person learning. Stuart noticed a shift in their attention levels after a year spent looking at a screen.
"Even though our teachers did an amazing job at doing virtual learning ... I really, truly believe that it just wasn't the same," Stuart said.
She reached out to other educators on TikTok to help.
"That's the best part about the teacher community [on TikTok]," said Stuart said. "We're able to really empathize for each other and lift each other up and say, 'Hey, you're not alone. We're struggling, too. What can we do to help each other out?'"
Stuart hopes to close the learning gaps students have faced because of the pandemic, while continuing to make connections with her students years down the line.
"It's funny because I was only part of their life every single day for 10 months. And when you think about that, 10 months in your whole life is really nothing but the impact that a teacher makes in those 10 months is pivotal," she said.